Moonstruck, a Better Film

by Corey Robin on September 29, 2013

I know that headline will set the menfolk off. Maybe the womenfolk, too. No matter. I just wanted to get your attention. For an entirely different purpose (though it really is a terrific film, with some lovely shots of Carroll Gardens.)

Wanting to bring together some recent CT threads on gender, sexism, and film, I thought this scene—which Michael Pollak reminded me of—does a brilliant job of capturing how and why academic men of a certain generation would have been so freaked out by the rules and laws of sexual harassment.

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The scene is between an older male professor—wonderfully played by John Mahoney, who also played that creepy dad in Say Anything, the father of the girl John Cusack was in love with—and Olympia Dukakis. She asks him why he likes to sleep with his female students. He tells her, and even though it’s 1987, i.e., a bit before the debate about faculty sexual harassment would really hit American campuses, he gives a visceral, concrete sense of what a male prerogative it was, to be able to fuck your students at will. And by implication why so many male faculty would freak out when they were told they couldn’t do it anymore.

Laws against sexual harassment really spelled the end of their world, the end of the old regime, the death of a whole way of life. A way of life that they thought was concomitant with education itself.

That’s how privilege works, as I’ve argued. The privileged imagine it to be an intrinsic part of the enterprise they’re engaged in, so that when the privilege goes, the enterprise goes with it too. And so the privileged freak: not just for themselves, but for all of humanity.